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Anti-electoralism is an ethical or ideological opposition to voting. It is distinct from and not to be confused with voter suppression, which is the attempt to depress the voter turnout of the other side in an election. Rather, anti-electoralism is when somebody makes a point of not voting and encourages others not to vote as a matter of taking the moral high ground.
The reasons somebody might consider voting to be either ethically or tactically incorrect vary. Common reasons include:
- Voting is viewed as participating in a process where laws and the choice of who makes them are made by a bare majority of 50%+1, or in some cases a minority when there are multiple candidates and no runoff election. This may be viewed as an act of coercion where the choice of the majority or plurality is forced upon everybody else who did not vote the same way.
- Their ideology advocates revolution and views voting as cooperation with a system they oppose and wish to overthrow, and elections as a sham serving only the interests of the ruling class.
- Their religious beliefs hold that they are a separate people not to take part in the secular world.
- A specific election may be boycotted based on the local situation as a tactic, or because the process in that particular election is viewed as unfair, even if the group calling the boycott may not necessarily be against voting otherwise.
- Cynicism. "If voting could change things, they'd make it illegal."
In general, Maoists and left communists are anti-electoralist, and believe that revolution is the only solution. Moscow-line Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, De Leonists, and Eurocommunists support voting and view their party being voted into power in an election as being a valid route to establishing socialism. The Maoist insistence on waging "protracted people's war", i.e. armed revolution, is also held by some who adhere to the communism of Fidel Castro or Che Guevara, although in the latter cases this may just be a tactical preference and not necessarily against electoralism in all cases. Some of the far left branches of Trotskyists do take an anti-electoral line, such as the Spartacist League.
There has long been a minority of libertarians who believe that voting is a coercive act which violates the libertarian non-initiation-of-aggression principle. Notable proponents include Wendy McElroy, Samuel Edward Konkin III, and anarcho-capitalist/pacifist Robert Lefevre. These people believe the idea of a Libertarian Party is an oxymoron and believe the only valid routes to liberty are those which are purely non-coercive, which according to their ideology is through the free market and spreading the libertarian belief system. Lew Rockwell also holds this view, although his mentor Murray Rothbard did not.
In fact, Rothbard ideologically struggled against the anti-voting factions in the libertarian movement during his lifetime, notably during his final years. His struggle is best illustrated in his conflicts with Konkin. Disagreeing almost entirely with Konkin's system of agorism. In a rebuttal to Konkin's book, The New Libertarian Manifesto, Rothbard attempted to take him to task for his stance of encouraging people refuse to vote. In typical Rothbard fashion, he offered what is to date one of the most illogical and crazy defenses for voting ever made.
“”Let's put it this way: Suppose we were slaves in the Old South, and that for some reason, each plantation had a system where the slaves were allowed to choose every four years between two alternative masters. Would it be evil, and sanctioning slavery, to participate in such a choice? Suppose one master was a monster who systematically tortured all the slaves, while the other one was kindly, enforced almost no work rules, freed one slave a year, or whatever. It would seem to me not only not aggression to vote for the kinder master but idiotic if we failed to do so. Of course, there might well be circumstances — say when both masters are similar — where the slaves would be better off not voting in order to make a visible protest — but this is a tactical not a moral consideration. Voting would not be evil but, in such a case, less effective than the protest.
Konkin challenged Rothbard's obviously poor defense in a counter-rebuttal written soon afterwards.
“”Can you imagine slaves on a plantation sitting around voting for masters and spending their energy on campaigning and candidates when they could be heading for the "underground railway"? Surely they would choose the counter-economic alternative; surely Dr. Rothbard would urge them to do so and not be seduced into remaining on the plantation until the Abolitionist Slavemasters’ Party is elected.
Anti-electoralism is most common among self-avowed anarchists, for obvious reasons. Voting is seen as legitimizing elitists and the tools they use to control others with namely statism and capitalism. Often, elections are described as a "spectacle" conducted by the ruling class to give the population the illusion of political power. This view is not universally held; for example Noam Chomsky, while an anarchist, takes the view that anarchy is the eventual goal but in the present situation voting is justifiable.
Some restorationist and non-conformist Christian denominations believe that the Bible injunction that Christians are to be strictly separated from the world and not "unequally yoked with unbelievers" implies that they should not, for example, buy insurance, take part in civic rituals involving the flag or national anthem, join the military or police, serve on juries, or vote. The Jehovah's Witnesses, and some Anabaptists including the Amish, hold this view and many of their members do not vote.
What do they advocate, then?
Say somebody lives in a democracy but they are opposed to voting, which means they are not taking part in the main process by which the decisions are made which affect the laws and government they are subjected to. Anti-electoralists would oppose even casting a protest vote for a minor candidate or party to register their dissent. What, then, do they advocate? Again, these vary:
- Sortition: The belief that government roles be filled through a lottery rather than elections. The key being a robust civics orientated public education that prepares citizens for a role in government.
- Separatism: Those who try to live as separate as possible from the mainstream of society, either in their own religious groups, subcultures, or associating only with a few like-minded people. These people may not engage in any activism at all apart from proselytising.
- Revolution: Those who believe the current government should be overthrown, period. Voting and registering to vote, as well as signing petitions and writing letters to elected officials, are all seen as cooperating with the government (and giving them your name and address). Their activism may focus on protests, direct action, and ultimately trying to convince a critical mass of people of the necessity of revolution.
- Education: These people believe that convincing others of their superior moral or ideological position is the key. Voting politicians into office who agree with those views is coercive, and only educating others in the hope they will willingly adopt those views on their own is ethical.
- The market: This stems from a common libertarian distinction that classifies all acts of violence and coercion as "the state" and all voluntary transactions between individuals as "the market" or "the free market". Change will come about, according to them, when people begin to operate in the market only and stop lending any moral legitimacy to the state. Favored tactics come and go; currently fashionable ones include Bitcoin and seasteading.
- Labor organizing: Those who believe that the place to be organizing is in the workplaces and on the shop floor, not at the ballot box, perhaps with the eventual goal of a general strike. Syndicalists and anarcho-syndicalists, such as the Industrial Workers of the World hold this view.
- Moping, whining, and conspiracy theories: Voting is useless because the shape shifting lizard people and the Illuminati control elections through black box voting. Listen instead only to Alex Jones who will set you straight, but don't actually try to change anything, because it's all rigged anyway. Except when Donald Trump and Ron Paul are running, then it's okay.
- Civil disobedience and direct action: Finally, there are those who believe in taking on problems directly, from feeding people and providing health care, to organizing their workplace or defending forests from loggers. Others openly violating unjust laws or engaging in illegal acts as the only morally-justified means of protest.